Twenty-seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time
First reading: Is 5:1-7
Responsoral Psalm: 80:9, 12-16, 19-20
Second reading: Phil 4:6-9
Gospel: Mt 21:33-43
By Jem Sullivan
The Bible is filled with images to describe God’s relationship to us. The first reading offers one such poetic passage when the prophet Isaiah uses the image of a grape harvest.
In vine-growing areas, the grape harvest is a time of rejoicing, especially when the harvest is good. If the fruit is not good, the harvest day is a time of frustration. Perhaps the memory of a disappointing harvest inspired Isaiah’s words.
The vineyard is a biblical image for the people of Israel. It is also an image of the church to which we each belong, by virtue of baptism. And like the vine-keeper, the Lord plants choice vines and tends it with care.
From time to time though, instead of a good harvest, the vine produces wild grapes. The Israelites were chosen to bear good fruit. Isaiah’s words serve as a challenge to them, and to us, to persevere daily in making the fruits of justice, compassion and love of God a reality.
Similarly, St. Paul encourages the Philippians with words that still speak to us today: “In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” In so doing, the Philippians will experience the peace of God that passes all understanding, particularly in times of trouble.
We live in an age of Christian martyrdom. That may surprise us if we connect the word “martyr” only to early centuries of Christianity. The fact is that in the last century, and into our own day, Christians have been and continue to be persecuted violently and suffer martyrdom for faith in Jesus Christ.
Christians throughout the world who die for their faith are a powerful witness to Christian discipleship. They follow the example of Jesus himself who loved us to his death on the cross. Christian martyrs sow seeds of faith and bear good and abundant fruit in lives of faith, hope and love of God.
Few of us will be expected to give our lives for faith. But we are called to witness to Jesus. We may not face the threat of violent martyrdom, but we are called to follow the example of Jesus’ selfless love to bear fruit that will last forever.
The world says, “Be successful!” In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us to bear fruit that will last forever. Will we accept God’s gracious invitation to let God’s word bear fruit in our lives?
Jesus tells us that if we fail to bear the fruit of faith, God’s love and peace will be harvested by those who do. To bear good fruit, I rely on God’s grace, as I say in faith, “speak to me, Lord.”
“Jesus is the vine, and through him — like the sap in the tree — the very love of God, the Holy Spirit is passed to the branches. … The branches are not self-sufficient, but depend totally on the vine, in which the source of their life is found. So it is with us Christians.” (Pope Francis, “Regina Coeli” address, May 3, 2015)
Sullivan is secretary for Catholic education of the Archdiocese of Washington.